Geomorphology, denudation rates, and stream channel profiles reveal patterns of mountain building adjacent to the San Andreas fault in northern California, USA

GSA Bulletin
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Relative horizontal motion along strike-slip faults can build mountains when motion is oblique to the trend of the strike-slip boundary. The resulting contraction and uplift pose off-fault seismic hazards, which are often difficult to detect because of the poor vertical resolution of satellite geodesy and difficulty of locating offset datable landforms in active mountain ranges. Sparse geomorphic markers, topographic analyses, and measurement of denudation allow us to map spatiotemporal patterns of uplift along the northern San Andreas fault. Between Jenner and Mendocino, California, emergent marine terraces found southwest of the San Andreas fault record late Pleistocene uplift rates between 0.20 and 0.45 mm yr–1 along much of the coast. However, on the northeast side of the San Andreas fault, a zone of rapid uplift (0.6–1.0 mm yr–1) exists adjacent to the San Andreas fault, but rates decay northeastward as the coast becomes more distant from the San Andreas fault. A newly dated 4.5 Ma shallow-marine deposit located at ∼500 m above sea level (masl) adjacent to the San Andreas fault is warped down to just 150 masl 15 km northeast of the San Andreas fault, and it is exposed at just 60–110 masl to the west of the fault. Landscape denudation rates calculated from abundance of cosmogenic radionuclides in fluvial sediment northeast of, and adjacent to, the San Andreas fault are 0.16–0.29 mm yr–1, but they are only 0.03–0.07 mm yr–1 west of the fault. Basin-average channel steepness and the denudation rates can be used to infer the erosive properties of the underlying bedrock. Calibrated erosion rates can then be estimated across the entire landscape using the spatial distribution of channel steepness with these erosive properties. The lower-elevation areas of this landscape that show high channel steepness (and hence calibrated erosion rate) are distinct from higher-elevation areas with systematically lower channel steepness and denudation rates. These two areas do not appear to be coincident with lithologic contacts. Assuming that changes in rock uplift rates are manifest in channel steepness values as an upstream-propagating kinematic wave that separates high and low channel steepness values, the distance that this transition has migrated vertically provides an estimate of the timing of rock uplift rate increase. This analysis suggests that rock uplift rates along the coast changed from 0.3 to 0.75 mm yr–1 between 450 and 350 ka. This zone of recent, relatively rapid crustal deformation along the plate boundary may be a result of the impingement of relatively strong crust underlying the Gualala block into the thinner, weaker oceanic crust left at the western margin of the North American plate by the westward migration of the subduction zone prior to establishment of the current transform plate boundary. The warped Pliocene marine deposits and the presence of a topographic ridge support the patterns indicated by the channel steepness analyses, and further indicate that the zone of rapid uplift may herald elevated off-fault seismic hazard if this uplift is created by periodic stick-slip motion on contractional structures.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Geomorphology, denudation rates, and stream channel profiles reveal patterns of mountain building adjacent to the San Andreas fault in northern California, USA
Series title GSA Bulletin
DOI 10.1130/B31551.1
Volume 129
Issue 5-6
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Geological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Earthquake Science Center
Description 18 p.
First page 732
Last page 749
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial San Andreas fault
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